Skip to main content

The Fist Bump the Most Hygenic Greeting?

Obama Fist Bump

Fist bumping is going mainstream. What used to be a greeting for high school kids or athletes is now commonly used by the President. But aside from being cool, a fist bump could help prevent illness.

A recent study done by David E. Whitworth, PhD, and his colleagues at Aberystwyth University in the UK compared the amount of bacteria transferred during handshakes, high fives and fist bumps. Two colleagues wore clean gloves. One of them dipped their glove in a solution full of non-harmful E. coli and waited for it to dry then proceeded with each greeting, using different gloves for each.

According to the report in the American Journal of Infection Control, the fist bump delivered 20 times less bacteria than the handshake. High fives transfer about half as much bacteria as a handshake as well. The conclusion seemed to be that the smaller surface area that comes in contact with the other hand, the smaller amount of bacteria transferred.

The surface area was not the only factor considered, but also the duration and strength. Basically, if you increase the grip and duration, you increase the amount of bacteria transferred.

Thomas L. Miller, MD, chief medical officer of University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics, agrees with the concept, but says the fist bump isn't quite ready for prime time in his line of work. "I wouldn't do it with patients. It's too informal and not professional. If I presented my fist, many patients wouldn't know what to do with it." His solution to the problem of bacteria filled handshakes is simple-- good hand hygiene and to avoid contact when contact isn't necessary.

While fist bumping's coolness isn't professional enough for hospitals, it might still be a good alternative in your daily life.

Good hand hygiene includes:

  • Washing your hands before meals or before preparing food
  • Washing hands after using the restroom, blowing nose, coughing or sneezing
  • Using warm water and soap and lathering up for at least 20 seconds
  • Using hand sanitizer when soap and water aren't available